As I looked over my daughter’s 9th grade supply list for school, it was deja-vu . . . like returning to my own childhood. Not much has changed, except maybe the required purchase of a scientific calculator. (And this really isn’t necessary, since there is a more graphical and powerful mobile app for that: http://www.spacetime.us/iphone). The list reflects a focus on text-based, static instruction using pencil and paper. In most of today’s classrooms, mobile devices are not allowed, and the only computers students can use are those in the classroom.
For my daughter, these restrictions involve unnecessary extra work. Writing she would normally do on her computer is done by hand and then typed on the computer. Collaboration and communication tools such as Google Docs, YouTube, and Blogger are usually blocked on the school network. Location-based, informal learning available through mobile technologies is not allowed due to restrictions on using mobile devices in the classroom. In other words, most of the technologies students and adults take for granted during the day are not used in the schools.
As an educational technologist and teacher, I am a fervent advocate for improved access to information and current technology tools for ALL learners. However, I also empathize with school administration and policymakers about the challenges they face in funding and training teachers how to use rapidly evolving technologies.
If schools are to be microcosms of the world, preparing students to be successful participants and contributors in a 21st century world, then what needs to be done?
Here are 10 Ideas to Start
- Let Them Have Computers
Students are already accustomed to using computers for communication, collaboration, writing, searching, gaming, and getting things done. Let them bring their computers to the classroom.
- Let Them Use Mobile Devices
Encourage students to bring their mobile devices in the classroom and include opportunities for multimedia production, note taking, group projects, research, planning, and a multitude of other uses.
- Let Them Use Collaborative Tools
Teachers would use less paper and collaborate more with students using digital tools, such as Google Docs, blogging software, social networks, and other tools students may already be using.
- Let Them Demonstrate Learning
Let’s offer more authentic and student-centered ways of demonstrating the progress of their learning through the use of publicly-available digital portfolios and other products.
- Re-Apportion Technology Funding
Schools could reduce or eliminate funding for school servers and software licenses and use readily-available open-source, free, and cloud-based products. Money saved could be used to fund computer purchases for students, provide technology training, and other services to extend technology use to the entire community.
- Include Professional Development
Provide meaningful training and support for teachers, administrative staff, students, and parents to use digital tools in engaging and creative ways to enhance learning.
- Enable Home Internet Access for All Students
Educate families on the availability of low-cost Internet and computers: “Comcast Launches Low-Cost Internet for Low-Income Families”
- Individualize Learning
Integrate technology to individualize learning and create more interactive learning in the classroom? (Read about the “Flipped Classroom” for some ideas.)
- Offer Virtual Classrooms
Use web conferencing and other communication technologies to enable ALL students to attend school.
- Create an Online Community of Learners
Provide convenient ways for teachers to interact with parents and the community, through web-based social networks, communication tools, and other community-based networks.
What are you currently doing in your classroom and school to effect change, to help bring all students into the 21st century? What ideas might you offer to other teachers or administrators? What would the perfect school look like to you?